Les Miserables Film Review
Les Miserables the musical at last gets the big picture treatment. Sometimes it can be hard to find the words to effectively describe films. Others you passionately love enough to gush on romantically about how fantastic every minute detail of it is. Others you loathe so much that the hatred spills out of you with every acidic word spitting its disapproval on the page to warn others. Then there are the middle-films. The films you neither dislike nor like. The films that sit in the middle with no real adequate description of something average bar the word average. Les Miserables is that sort of film and it could be summed up with a two and a half hour recording of “mehhhhhhhhhhh” with the exclusion of Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream being the only fantastic moment.
In no way is cynicism involved in this evaluation. There was no urge to dislike it or like it like the rest but an urge to see it and watch a stage production erupt into film with an impressive, surprising cast. For those that don’t know, Les Mis is set in 19th century, post-revolutionary France about Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) the ex-prisoner who is constantly hounded and hunted by Russell Crowe’s Javert after breaking parole. Afterwards Jean Valjean agrees to look after Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen then Amanda Seyfried), which gives him a reason to be free. The stage is set, the lights are lit, the band are ready, it’s time to hear the music of the epic Les Misérables.
No one can take away the sheer size of this Les Misérables production. From the massive swooping opening to a giant ship being pulled by all the prisoners including the special 24601. The enormity is overwhelming yet welcomed because it sets your sights on what’s to come. The massive musical epic that it’s supposed to be that bangs through with great ferocity to join le revolution. In this, it starts off well with the singing great, the drama fantastic, the costumes, the sets, everything all fitting and sets your hope up but what follows is rarely as good as this scene. It begins encapsulating it so well but once Jean Valjean leaves with this parole warrant it all goes from a welcoming size to a showy presentation of it. Instead of it being size for effect, it’s size for the sake of size to show that it isn’t the stage, it’s been adapted well and that the film gives it an epic scale for originality.
It’d feel like the size was worthwhile at least if the cameras didn’t spend half the time an inch away from the characters’ faces. Most shots of people feel like shots of their faces and not for intimacy for the moment but for Oscar bait. The only time the effect feels worthwhile and not intrusive is in Anne Hathaway’s scenes where she brings so much power to a performance that is only brief to the screen but outstanding. Her brief moment in a film that isn’t is the highlight of the film and once she leaves, you’ve seen the best of the film. All that follows is rarely as encapsulating as her solos that she belts out perfectly. Hathaway has bagged herself an Oscar because of the phenomenal performance, guaranteed. Hooper has seemed to have tried to distance himself from the stage as much as possible with close-ups, swooping shots, size for the sake of size and so on rather than capture what has made it loved.
It seems all the problems can be traced to Tom Hooper’s direction really. You are aware of the length instead of immersed in it, you’re aware of the Oscar bait it’s being, you’re aware, well, you’re aware. Being aware of these things in a film that is supposed to be about immersion and enjoyment in musical form means that there’s too much distance. There should be no feeling of audience but a feeling of addition as an extra within it to help bolster up the chorus of songs. With this there’s nothing that drastic achieved. The angles used in the film are iffy too. Its aesthetics are not usually easy on the eye with only one nice shot to recall – also in the beginning of the film. The visceral take on the barricade scene is so visceral that you don’t know what’s going on at all which is another problem. It’s a shame again that this film is an eye-sore on the whole.
If you think your other senses will be pleased more so then they won’t really because unfortunately Russell Crowe’s Javert has all the flat notes as well as being a dominant figure in the film lingering with stale singing. Though Russell Crowe’s performance is excellent in terms of acting, his singing ability leaves him being a bit of an annoyance. But, what is true, is the cast of this excellent with not a flat note in terms of acting. Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette is well done, Eddie Redmayne’s Marius is great with a voice to match his acting and Samantha Barks’s Éponine is an absolute highlight with fantastic singing and a realism to her portrayal of a girl shunned. Even Sacha Baron Cohen’s Thénardier is a surprising delight; his comic timings is natural and a wonderful addition to a powerhouse film emotionally that it’s nice to get these lifting moments.
Although the performances are the main thing that raises this film up from average the direction, length and sheer OTT moments feel more laborious than pleasurable. All these drag it down from moments of sheer brilliance to moments of eye-rolling frustration. A better filmed film would suit this scale had you been able to see it and appreciate it instead of the wonky camera angles that stop you from appreciating details in a Burton influenced take on cinematography. A shame that a film so filled with potential and promise be dragged down by the key note of direction being frustratingly out of tune.